Boy's Own Paper,  1 (1879), 571–73.

Some Boys Who Became Famous. The Boys Who Built London Bridge



Regular Feature, Essay

Relevant illustrations:

wdct. [2]


Engineering, Technology, Architecture, Engineers, Education, Skill, Universities, Mathematics, Transport, Zoological Gardens, Piety, Endeavour, Creativity

    Describes the life of John Rennie and his son John Rennie. Begins by noting that when he was born in 1761, 'Railways and telegraphy were of course unknown; canals were few, roads were bad, bridges vile!', and that there were only a few bridges spanning the Thames, and that 'There were no engineers in England, strictly speaking, and what work was done was the result of the genius of self-educated men like Watt, Smeaton, William Edwards and John Rennie'. Considers Rennie to have been a 'born mechanic' who early displayed 'astonishing skill' with tools and built mechanical models in his spare time. Describes his apprenticeship to Andrew Meikle who was also 'astonished' with Rennie's mechanical skills. (571) Proceeds to describes how Rennie learnt mathematics at school, studied at the University of Edinburgh, and his collaboration with Watt on the construction of the Albion Mills, buildings which were later destroyed by fire and which inspired engineers to use iron instead of wood for construction materials. Goes on to describe Rennie's other successes including canal-building, the drainage of the Lincoln and Cambridge fens, and bridge-building. Details the life of the younger Rennie who helped his father construct London Bridge. Stresses his determination to 'graduate from the lowest point of his profession', his earnest study of mechanical and intellectual subjects, and his determination to assist his father in the construction of Waterloo Bridge (572). The younger Rennie was then sent to the Continent to continue his learning and where he met several 'distinguished people' including Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday, and endured several unpleasant experiences. Describes the younger Rennie's achievements in harbour and bridge construction, and his collaboration with Davy on the establishment of the Zoological Gardens. Emphasises that the younger Rennie's motto was 'to be true and thorough' and that obstacles were sources of energy to him, and concludes by noting how Rennie thanked God for allowing him 'to do the little that I have done' (573). The illustrations show the first London Bridge and the predecessor of Rennie's bridge as it appeared during the severe winter of 1813.

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

Printed from Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: An Electronic Index, v. 4.0, The Digital Humanities Institute <> [accessed ]